Countless mothers have warned their teens to turn down loud music before they damage their hearing. And countless kids have rolled their eyes and argued their hearing is fine and the music can’t hurt them.
Now moms have science to back up what common sense has long suggested. Adolescents listening to super loud music are, in fact, putting their hearing in danger.
Exposure to loud music can cause the condition known as tinnitus, marked by ringing, buzzing, and other sounds in the ear. It is sometimes temporary but can lead to early, permanently damaged hearing in young people, according to research by University of São Paulo and McMasters University hearing experts.
"It's a growing problem and I think it's going to get worse,” said Larry Roberts, PhD, a neuroscience and hearing expert at McMasters, who worked on the study. “My personal view is that there is a major public health challenge coming down the road in terms of difficulties with hearing."
The research team interviewed 170 students between the ages of 11 and 17. They found the majority engaged in what the researchers call “risky listening habits” — meaning the youngsters listened to loud music at parties, clubs, and on personal devices.
Almost 30 percent of the study participants had persistent tinnitus, a condition more likely to be found in people who are 50 and older, not adolescents. Detailed hearing tests on the research volunteers also showed even though the young people could still hear as well as their peers, many of those with tinnitus had a significantly reduced tolerance for loud noise.
This raises a red flag for hearing impairment later in life, according to Roberts, because it indicates hidden damage to auditory nerves. When exposure to very loud music causes this type of nerve damage, it makes brain cells far more sensitive to input from remaining auditory nerves. The result is that sounds seem disturbingly loud, Roberts explained.
Although increased loudness perception is a recognized sign of nerve injury, it’s not picked up the standard test for hearing ability, the audiogram. However, this hard-to-document hearing problem eventually becomes evident – it typically worsens with age and can threaten hearing.
“The levels of sound exposure that are quite commonplace in our environment, particularly among youth, appear to be sufficient to produce hidden cochlear injuries. “ Roberts said. “The message is, ‘Protect your ears.’”
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy message to get through to young people because they are often unaware listening to loud music can damage their hearing. For now, the effort to spread the news that loud music exposure can damage hearing is much like the early years of the campaign to halt smoking. But once people have the right information on how to protect themselves, they are more likely to take steps to avoid damaging their hearing, Roberts noted.
Another recent study from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands noted the prevalence of acquired hearing loss has soared around the world over the past several decades, increasing in American adolescents by about 31 percent since l988. Because exposure to loud music is the likely culprit, the researchers investigated whether wearing earplugs can help prevent hearing damage. The results showed earplugs are, in fact, effective in preventing temporary hearing loss and tinnitus after loud music exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates over 12 percent of American children and adolescents between six and 19 years and about 26 million U.S. adults have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise. For strategies to protect your hearing, visit the CDC’s Noise-Induced Hearing Loss page.
The American Tinnitus Association offers information on symptoms and treatment for tinnitus.
July 21, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN